If ever there was a single symbol of my wandering ways it would be Salvation Mountain.
Driving through the sun burnt landscape of inland California, surrounded by various shades of brown, it rises from the earth as a beacon to those who have traveled far and wide to experience it's magic. There amongst the tanned earth the painted mountain looks as though it was dreamed up by a child; something out of a coloring book.
Like many, I first heard of Salvation Mountain through the book Into the Wild. A book that inspired my first major endeavor into traveling, a cross country bicycle tour. Five years after that maiden voyage, I had just moved to Texas and again had wanderlust in my heart. Although it was a forty-two hour round trip drive to Niland, California I felt like it was something I had to do. Almost two days in a car just to see Salvation Mountain for a few hours.
When you gaze upon Salvation Mountain you can't help but be overwhelmed by the conviction and dedication it took to create such a powerful symbol. Something was born in me on that initial trip, the joy of traveling became real. That trip was what sparked all of this. It showed me that I held the power to see and do whatever I wanted if I put the effort into it. It made me believe that rather than spend my days talking about what I hoped to do "when I had the time", I just had to take that step and go for it.
And four years later there I was again, staring at the technicolor hues of someones life's work. As I watched Lauren walk around the painted ground with wonder and beauty in her eyes, I couldn't help but reflect on how much had changed since the last time I was there.
Four years ago I didn't know how to properly work a camera, I couldn't have cared less about "blogging", and I had no idea what Instagram was. But seeing what one man could create inspired me to document and share my travels through photographs and words, with the hope that maybe someday I could make an impact on someone the way that Leonard Knight's creation impacted me.
At the end of the day I still hope that I can somehow inspire at least one person out there, but have realized that all of this has had a bigger impact on me than I ever could have imagined. Because of what was instilled in me on that first trip, I have been able to see places that I never could have dreamed of. Because of that first trip, I have met people who I will forever call friends.
there has always been this allure of arriving at a destination in the dark, especially a place i've never been to before. watching the morning sun illuminate what lay before me on this trip was astonishing. my eyes were greeted with an almost mystical fog cloaked ozark mountains range.
arkansas was new to me, never before had i spent anytime in "the natural state" so all day was spent exploring any back road i could find. by the time i finally reached where i wanted to camp that night i was hot, sweaty and probably a little dehydrated.
the hike to the spot was not necessarily hard but i left my tent in my truck heeding the signs that advised against camping. much to the dismay of my weary feet as soon as i made the hike i saw a tent set up right near the edge of the cliff, so i turned around and headed back to get my gear. after making it back to the overlook the second time i saw a group of three people sitting there taking in the view. in a some what joking manner i walked up to them and said "hey you guys don't have any beer do you?" to which they responded "no but we have boxed wine if you want some."
i spent the rest of the night with these folks right there on the edge of the overlook. we shared stories about our lives and past travels. they taught me more than i'll ever need to know about rock climbing and all the technical terms that go along with the sport. we poked fun at my unnatural obsession for all things pumpkin spiced. one of them, justin, a fellow photographer, and i spent time trying our hand at astrophotography. we set up our tents and cooked dinner in the dark. and we spent hours laying on our backs marveling at the milky way stringing itself through the sky above us.
the next morning justin and i woke up in the dark to watch the sun rise while the others stayed in their tent. we snapped photos of the yellow and purple hues as the landscape below us was slowly lit. after some coffee and breakfast i handed my phone to him so he could type in his number. he looked at me, "i'm going to be honest with you, i can't see your phone. i'm nearly blind, i can see your outline but that's about it."
i didn't believe him. i looked to his friends waiting for them to chuckle, but there was no laugh. justin lost most of his vision at the age of fourteen and is considered legally blind.
**justin took this photo of me**
i inquisitively started asking him a thousand questions. he explained to me all of the things he does to navigate this world created for the sighted. and i started to pick up on all of these tiny things he had been doing that only gave it away after he had mentioned it. i don't know if there has been a time in my life i have ever been more humbled.
think about that for a moment, justin is blind but he is still out there doing, enjoying, pushing himself and taking amazing photographs along the way.
so here is to the people you meet out there in this big wide world if you allow yourself to. the people who can make a lasting impact on you. to the people who do so just by being themselves and nothing more. people like justin.
"humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less."
for only a couple of weeks, a month if we're lucky, there is an oasis just a mile down the road from all the hustle and bustle of austin.
sitting in the cool, flowing water you can't help but look around at the trees and the towering limestone cliffs and feel like you are worlds away from the city that surrounds this temporary little creek.
the greenbelt is full of good people and good dogs, lots of sunshine and a ton of laughs, but again it's only around for a short time. soon it will dry up in the searing texas summer sun, but maybe it's better that way, it makes you that much more thankful for it while it's here.
almost a year ago i received a message from a follower online, he spoke to me about sorrow and continuing to pursue your passions even in the midst of turmoil. "grieve appropriately, your art (your eye) is excellent and shouldn’t be derailed." he closed his message to me with these words, "there will be a better muse in your future."
"there will be a better muse in your future."
i try my hardest to respond to messages right away with real and honest answers, but this one struck a chord with me. i had no words to send back to this person, i revisited his message quite often, typing something back to him, only to shake my head and delete what i had just written. his closing quote was so raw and full of truth that it deserved a proper response and i just didn't have one.
i sat on those words for months and months, repeating them in my head at various points during this past year. there was just something about how simple, eloquent and powerful they were that resonated with me.
every so often a friend will come to me and ask for advice, be it about a relationship, about a job, about a city; the answer i keep giving, "is it making you a better version of yourself?" truth be told this wasn't even a question i was asking myself until quite recently, but it all tied back to that statement on muses. a muse; beyond art, something or someone that inspires you to be a better version of yourself.
a few weeks ago i finally felt ready, i messaged this person back. i let him know how much his message meant to me, how his words had stuck with me all year, and more importantly; that better muses had been found. these friends. this city. this girl.